By Mary Smith, OSF
One of my first impressions of “The Child Next Door” human trafficking conference (which I attended only in the morning) was that I was profoundly amazed at the number of participants; they were literally spilling over and out the doors of that huge Rogalski Center. To the minister at the registration table I expressed my gratitude for this great witness to the strength of the collaborative efforts of the faith communities and other societal groups who had joined forces for the sake of education and action around what the plenary speaker, Tina Frundt, called “modern day slavery” of innocent persons — victims of human trafficking.
Having to stand for a couple of hours near the main entrance to the Center was no difficulty, for Tina Frundt captivated me and her audience with her humor, her truth-telling of her personal frightening journey as a child trafficking survivor and with insights into how everyone can make a difference, especially by noticing—paying attention to a potential victim’s situation— perhaps getting involved, raising new questions, concerns, insights that may liberate someone caught in this tragic form of modern day slavery.
Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, providing or obtaining by any means, of a person for forced labor, slavery or servitude in any industry or site. According to the U.S. State Department, there are over 12 million adult and child slaves worldwide, 56% of whom are women and girls.
After drug trafficking, trafficking of human beings is equal with arms trafficking as the second largest criminal industry in the world. It is also the fastest growing! Makes me shudder! Traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits every year while victimizing millions of people around the globe.
As Catholics and especially as Franciscans, we affirm our relationship with all persons as our brothers and sisters. Like Francis and Clare, who reached out to the poor, oppressed and marginalized in their day, we have special concern for the dignity of all human beings and a call to respond when persons are being oppressed. We aim to transform hatred to love, despair to hope, sadness to joy, and darkness to light for all human trafficked victims.
We embrace the truth that everyone and everything is kin in the radiant tapestry of being. Each and every person is precious and needs sensitive others to help liberate and heal them when they become victims of oppressive circumstances.
So as Christians and as Franciscans, how do we navigate the rough waters of sexual violence in these turbulent times?
On a personal level, as a spiritual director who walks with seekers of all ages, this conference underscored the urgency for me and all of us to pay attention to people’s stories. There is such power in story-telling — such gift here for processing emotions and coming to a sense of one’s personal beauty and power, the ability to face situations and still come to peace, to recognize God’s inner energy and discerning wisdom. I know from experience that deep listening helps others awaken to new awareness and spiritual healing in their life’s journey forward. Often it’s that wondrous moment when grace and pain come together and unimagined fresh energy is found.
On a corporate level, “we Clinton Franciscans, in the spirit of Francis and Clare, strive to live in and promote active nonviolence and peacemaking, fostering right relationship with all God’s creation; living as sisters and brothers with all and promoting care and sustainability of earth.”
This human trafficking conference brought to mind the many gatherings and activities we Clinton Franciscans have participated in communally relative to this urgent topic of our time. For example, the YWCA sponsored a gathering on addressing the realities of Clinton-area needs for money to support needy women and children in our city and nearby.
Seeking to live and lead nonviolently, as religious leaders and members of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, this fall we focused on the complex realities of “violent power over” and how to address conflict management both at work and at home. At our Region X gathering in early November, our speaker, Andra Medea, teacher at the University of Chicago and co-author of Against Rape, offered expert advice for solving problems and being more effective both at work and at home. Like Tina Frundt, she’s a keen observer of the human condition.
Looking ahead to the Lenten season, 2013, the Clinton Center for Active Violence and Peacemaking will be collaborating with Prince of Peace Parish Pax Christi for a six week series centered around “Empowering Women: A Faith Response to Violence.” Programs will focus on human trafficking and empowering women.
Together, through serious collaboration of our energies, we hope to deepen our witness to peace and active nonviolence, to learn more about trafficking realities and to encourage each other for challenges that lie ahead.
As I left the conference, the gripping words of Eleanor Roosevelt came to mind and warmed my heart: “When will our consciousness grow so tender that we will act to prevent misery rather than avenge it”?
It’s the question of the day and hour in these turbulent times, isn’t it?
— Mary Smith, OSF, Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking, Clinton, Iowa